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Energy & Climate

COVID-19 is awful. Climate change could be worse.

A new note from Bill Gates draws from research by the Climate Impact Lab and Rhodium Group.

In a new note, Bill Gates draws parallels between the human toll and economic pain of both the pandemic and climate change, and shares lessons from the current crisis that could guide the world’s response to climate change.

The note pulls from research by Rhodium Group on the economic costs of current COVID-related emissions reductions, and by the Climate Impact Lab on the projected global increase in heat-related deaths over the next 80 years.

“If you want to understand the kind of damage that climate change will inflict, look at COVID-19 and spread the pain out over a much longer period of time. The loss of life and economic misery caused by this pandemic are on par with what will happen regularly if we do not eliminate the world’s carbon emissions.

Let’s look first at the loss of life. How many people will be killed by COVID-19 versus by climate change? Because we want to compare events that happen at different points in time—the pandemic in 2020 and climate change in, say, 2060—and the global population will change in that time, we can’t compare the absolute numbers of deaths. Instead we will use the death rate: that is, the number of deaths per 100,000 people.

As of last week, more than 600,000 people are known to have died from COVID-19 worldwide. On an annualized basis, that is a death rate of 14 per 100,000 people.

How does that compare to climate change? Within the next 40 years, increases in global temperatures are projected to raise global mortality rates by the same amount—14 deaths per 100,000. By the end of the century, if emissions growth stays high, climate change could be responsible for 73 extra deaths per 100,000 people. In a lower emissions scenario, the death rate drops to 10 per 100,000.

In other words, by 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as COVID-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly.”

Read the Note